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Is the Possible Government Shutdown Dispute Really Over Abortion?


As the deadline looms to pass a funding measure or shut the government down, budget negotiations took a familiar twist today as some suggested that the debate hinges on abortion funding. The government cannot directly fund abortions, but many social conservatives say that funding other Planned Parenthood services ends up allowing it to provide abortions. A similar issue became a central issue in the health care debates last year until the final compromise.

The New York Times ran with with a early headline, "No Deal Overnight on Federal Budget as Abortion Remains Sticking Point" and a corresponding editorial that blames the Republicans' refusal to bend based on the issue on abortion. The Wall Street Journalsays, "Abortion Returns to Center Stage." Businessweek says, "Abortion, Spending Divide Leaders Trying to Avert Shutdown."

However, most of the people making the case that the issue revolves around abortion appears to come from Democrats. The Hillreports that House Speaker John Boehner rejected claims that abortion is the central issue.

"There's far more than one provision that's holding up any agreement, I can tell you that," Boehner said.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post tweeted, "I don't know if the shutdown is really hung up on Planned Parenthood. But if public perceives it is, GOP is toast."

Jay Newton-Small of Time magazine reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said House Speaker John Boehner is pushing a rider that would enable governors to do what they want with Title X funding, a $327 million program which provides grants for clinics like Planned Parenthood that most conservative governors would defund.

Reid was asked by CNN's Brianna Keilar if he'd offered Boehner more money to drop the Title X rider. He said he had, but that Boehner had turned him down. This surprises me as I've always been under the impression that Boehner was using the policy riders as leverage for more cuts – that he never really expected to move the needle on abortion, climate change or health care reform. The brouhaha over the riders must be taken with a grain of salt as it behooves Dems to portray Boehner as obsessed with "extreme" riders rather than negotiating in good faith on funding the government. Given that even Michele Bachmann called on Boehner to drop the riders and just pass a "clean" one week extension to give negotiators more time*, I'd be surprised if the only issue at play here is truly Title X.

*Bachmann voiced support for dropping riders for a bill that would insure that military paychecks continue in the event of a government shutdown. Her office made clear Friday that she does not support stripping riders that deal with abortion from the main 2011 continuing resolution bill that is now being negotiated by Boehner, Reid and Barack Obama.

Update: Boehner insisted again today that the debate is not over abortion and said, "Stay tuned. Keep the faith," National Journalreports.

The lawmaker said Boehner reiterated that the hold-up is spending cuts, and not policy riders, contrary to what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., has suggested. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., explicitly asked the speaker if the hold-up was "women's rights" and Boehner said it was not.

Some conservative groups are suggesting that abortion does remain an issue. "The President has singled out Planned Parenthood, a significant financial and political supporter for special attention and protection," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List said in a statement.

Talking Points Memo reports that some Republican lawmakers are urging Boehner to drop the social issues discussion.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) another pro-life conservative echoed his call on MSNBC Thursday, saying the GOP should "move on."

"I'd like to defund Planned Parenthood, but I understand that Republicans don't have complete control of the elected government," Toomey said. "I think what we should do is cut spending as much as we can, get the policy changes that we can, but move on, because there are other, bigger battles that we are fighting."

The post also raised the question over whether the tea party is putting more prominence on fiscal issues over social issues.

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